HDR is Dead …

HDR is Dead - Thien Hau Temple, Ho Chi Ming City, Vietnam

HDR is Dead – Thien Hau Temple, Ho Chi Ming City, Vietnam

© 2014 – philip vergeylen – all rights reserved.

For years now, I have been trying to convince most of my fellow photographers of the importance of the presence of shadows and dark areas in my photography. But until now, I always got the answer that I’d better use HDR to lighten up the shadows to obtain a more ‘balanced’ photo.

I have to admit that I have never used HDR, and  I don’t feel the need to do so. For me, light is extremely important, and most of the photographers kill the light in their photo’s by putting a HDR sauce over it.

Last year, I found the book In Praise of Shadows by the Japanese novelist Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. The book is an essay about aesthetics, about the quality of light and about the importance of shadows. The author discusses traditional Japanese aesthetics in contrast with change. Comparisons of light with darkness are used to contrast Western culture and the Culture of Japan. The essay acts as a classic description of the collision between the shadows of traditional Japanese interiors and the dazzling light of the modern age. Tanizaki’s observations include cultural notes on topics such as arts and crafts, paper making, lacquerware design and the Japanese room.

I advised several of my fellow photographers to read this book, hoping they would finally understand what I’m telling with my photography. Unfortunately, as far as I know, none of them did take the time to read it.

If you like a good (and short) read, this essay is something for you. I’m convinced that after reading it, you’ll think twice before opening your HDR software.

The photo of the two candles was made in Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu (The Pagoda of the Lady Thien Hau),  a Chinese temple located on Nguyen Trai Street in the Cho Lon (Chinatown) district of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The temple is dedicated to Thiên Hậu, the Lady of the Sea.


12 thoughts on “HDR is Dead …

  1. I am fully aware that this HDR thing has been discussed to death, but I say some more about it. When I first learned about it, I went batt-shitt-freaky-crazy images with it. I learned more and I do not use it often anymore. I know it is perhaps hard to zero in on intent, but I think the intent of HDR is to produce an image using a more complete dynamic range (including highlights and shadows). I think people get carried away with the tone mapping and over saturation; it becomes a matter of taste at that point. I don’t care for it myself.

  2. I was just looking through a coffee table book while waiting in a hotel of a photographic journal of American. The book was published in the 1990’s and the photographer used Leica and Linhof film cameras, as digital was a fantasy at the time. Most likely shot on chrome films, the shadow detail in the photos was minimal, if there at all. It was a nice look and most likely why people like the “look” of film but they don’t know why – I’m guessing it’s not the grain. I don’t think the look is entirely impossible with digital it’s just that we are enamored with “bringing up the shadows” and making the image as close as possible as the eye sees it. I’m as guilty as anyone but it is something I think about and I don’t think I ever attempted an HDR image.

  3. Philip, I’m not going to read this book, but I AM going to agree with you 101%! Maybe not so much that HDR is dead >> perhaps more that it should never have been alive in the first place! I agree with you, photography is about the interplay of light with objects, its all about shadows >>> and removing those wonderful shadows is the last thing we should want to do! To me, a former film fan but now a digital photography fanatic, HDR remains the “unacceptable face of digital photography”. Thanks for a great post. Adrian

  4. I think a lot of people over-use HDR with the result that their photography looks hyper-realistic. For me, mood is a critical component of a photograph and if it’s too real I can’t get mentally close to it. I always feel like that sort of photo is punching my eyes.

  5. Thank you all for your reactions. I believe indeed that photographers who started their art on film and in the darkroom have more appreciation for dark parts and deep shadows in their photography.
    ‘Light illuminates, but shadows define’ is still one of my favourite quotes.

  6. Is only HDR dead ? or also all the photo processing software ? In one of the photo forums I once saw a beautiful picture, with colorful clouds, and ripples in the river, almost a picture. The photographer ( ? ) said that it was processed, and was kind enough to post the prepossessed image. When I saw it , I felt deceived, as if I was robbed from reality. The original was so different , everything was added by image processing …One may argue that that it art, and that every camera does some processing , and that adding filters to the camera is processing as well…

    Thought provoking post


  7. Good point Yanina. Too many ‘photographers’ try to create an image that didn’t exist the moment they pushed the button on their camera. And although some of them manage to create real art, the majority does not fit my personal taste.
    I try to stay true to the original image, only changing contrast, exposure … which means nothing more than making some pixels darker and some brighter. What you see in my photos is always what was in front of my camera. So no cloning (in or out) for me.
    But I know some great artists who can create wonderful images that previously only existed in their minds. What they do is more than adding some PS filters or cloning a bird on the head of a lion.
    I once read a quote, I don’t know from who it was, saying the you should never do to your photo what you wouldn’t want to reveal in the caption. I completely agree with that one.

  8. HDR may not be dead but yes I don’t see a rage for it now. Most of the seasoned shooters treat it as a teenage stuff. On our blog we don’t post features on HDR or HDR enthusiasts but once in a while we do admire brilliantly done ‘balanced’ images.

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